500-car garage proposed near Legg Mason tower

`Parking is definitely an issue' for large investment firm, landlord Newkirk says, and Legg's lease expires in 2009

March 17, 2006|By LORRAINE MIRABELLA | LORRAINE MIRABELLA,SUN REPORTER

City officials are hoping a 500-space garage proposed for downtown Baltimore across from the Legg Mason tower will help keep Legg Mason Inc. in the building that bears its name.

The 10-story garage, to be constructed on Lombard Street between Charles and Light streets, is being developed by the owner of the 100 Light Street office tower to accommodate tenants, said John Alba, a vice president of Newkirk Realty Trust of New York, the tower owner.

Legg Mason occupies about two-thirds of the 35-story tower, the city's tallest building, which has an underground garage with 300 spaces. The company's lease expires in 2009.

"It's a very prominent building on the Inner Harbor, one of the original buildings there, and parking is definitely an issue for the building," Alba said.

"To enhance our investment and further the needs of the building, we are dedicated to getting this garage constructed ... to accommodate Legg's needs and any other tenant we'll be leasing to," he said.

M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of Baltimore Development Corp., said BDC officials have had continuing discussions with Legg Mason about the investment firm's space requirements, even before last summer, when Legg and New York-based Citigroup Inc. announced a landmark $3.7 billion business swap.

Through the transaction, completed in December, Legg acquired Citigroup's mutual funds and asset management businesses, doubling the assets it manages to $851 billion and becoming the nation's fifth-largest money manager. In return, Citigroup's Smith Barney subsidiary took Legg's roughly 1,500 brokers.

"We've had these conversations with Legg Mason and parking in that building is one of their concerns," Brodie said. "They have a lot of folks, and they have relatively little parking."

The firm is going through the typical assessment of space that most companies undertake a couple of years before a lease is to expire, Brodie said.

"Parking is one of the elements in their ongoing conversation," he said. "We would like them to stay downtown and would like them to stay in that building."

A Legg Mason spokesman said the company had no comment on its downtown office space needs or the garage.

"We are not going to have any comment on the proposed work on Lombard Street," said Jeffrey Bukowski, the spokesman.

Legg Mason has about 600 employees working at 100 Light St. A number of former Legg employees who are now with Stifel Nicolaus & Co., which acquired Legg's investment banking, research and trading operations, also continue to work from the Legg Mason tower, though they will likely relocate, Brodie said. In addition, Smith Barney will eventually relocate the brokers who occupy two floors at 100 Light St. under a sublet from Legg.

Alba, the Newkirk vice president, said Legg officials have not indicated to him what their future space requirements will be.

"With the Citigroup transaction that happened, they are deciding how much they really need in terms of space down there," he said. "We've not been told. I don't know if they want the whole building or entirely out of it or somewhere in the middle. That remains to be seen."

Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership, said the garage should help meet the parking needs of such a key downtown tenant.

"It appears that the parking is a necessity to assist Legg Mason," he said. "It appears from the attempt by the property owner to create this garage that Legg Mason is inclined to stay downtown."

"There clearly for years has been discussion of the need for downtown parking, and it seemed like we had reached a peak a couple of years ago where we'd met much of the need," said Donald C. Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee. But with increased activity and new jobs downtown, "one of the things we have to worry about is staying ahead of the curve."

Newkirk has several properties along the Lombard Street block under contract from the current owner, M&T Bank Corp., pending city approval of the garage design. The project won a preliminary approval yesterday from the city's Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel.

Alba said Newkirk hopes to start constructing the garage by the first quarter of 2007. He had no estimate on the project cost. Buildings on the block would be razed for the project, except for Burke's restaurant, which plans to stay open. The garage will extend as far north on the block as the M&T Bank building at 25 S. Charles St.

The project is slated to have ground-level retail. Alba said it's possible some of the existing tenants, such as the Afghan Kabob restaurant, could relocate to the retail space in the new project. Newkirk also hopes to attract national retailers .

At the design panel presentation, John Maclay, a past president of Baltimore Heritage Inc., expressed disappointment that the garage developers hadn't found a way to save the century-old brick building at the corner of Lombard and Charles. "It's always regrettable to lose historic buildings in that area," he said.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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